The Alpine Rally Ford Zephyr
A Day’s Motoring in a Very Impressive Triple-Carburetter, Disc-Braked Competition Car
It became possible to borrow for a day’s brisk motoring the Ford Zephyr which Burgess drove in this year’s Alpine Rally and 580 FTW provided some truly enjoyable motoring. This car is one of those prepared for rally work by the Competition Department of the Ford Motor Company, at the premises of Lincoln Cars on the Great West Road, under the expert supervision of Jack Welch. In the ” Alpine” 580 FTW retired with broken engine mountings but. the ” works” Zephyrs driven by Edward Harrison and Habershon and C. and J. Harrison finished first and second in the over 1,600-c.c. Standard Production Car Class, beating the Austin A105s.
The modifications to this Zephyr include a special cylinder head, with enlarged inlet and exhaust valves, giving a 9.0 to 1 compression ratio, and triple 1.75 in. semi-downdraught S.U. carburetters. A twin-branch exhaust system with a Servais silencer and short tail pipe is used, this engine being capable of exceeding 6,000 r.p.m. without anxiety.
To cope with the very potent performance which results, heavy-duty export-pattern Armstrong suspension units are used at the front of the car and an extra leaf is fitted to the back 0.5-elliptic springs. The steering-ratio is raised from 16.0 to 1 to a ratio of 12.5 to 1, involving only 2.25 turns of the steering wheel from lock-to-lock and a close-ratio gearbox is employed, in which 74 m.p.h. is possible in the middle of the three forward speeds.
The body is a normal production four-door saloon, lightened in respect of Perspex side windows. Indeed, with much extra equipment this Rally Zephyr is not much lighter than the standard model—with about 4 gallons of petrol, it weighed 1 ton 5 cwt. In the luggage boot there is an auxiliary fuel tank, filled via two external filler caps, holding 16 gallons, two taps beneath the tank enabling this reserve supply of petrol to be fed in separate quantities of 8 gallons each to the normal 10.5-gallon tank. An electric pump supplements the fuel feed to the carburetters, because experiments at M.I.R.A. showed that at a lap speed of 106 m.p.h. the normal fuel pump tended to starve the triple carburetters—an aside which serves to emphasise the speed of this outwardly staid saloon!
An outstanding feature of these cars is the use of Girling vacuum servo-assisted disc brakes on the front wheels. Special Ford hubs enable this modification to be made and these highly-commendable brakes, about which more will be said later, are used in conjunction with 2.25 in.-wide drum brakes on the back wheels.
580 FTW was equipped all round with 6.40 by 13 Michelin ” X ” tyres. Within, sensible and efficient equipment prevails. The front seats are of rally-type, deep, comfortable and high-backed. There is body-harness for the navigator, an aircraft-style lap-strap for the driver. The navigator has a map pocket lit by a lamp on a flexible stalk. The facia carries a Halda—that mechanical ” brain” which is indispensable to rally competitors—but otherwise instrumentation is confined to a hooded 160 k.p.h. speedometer, a fuel gauge, an ammeter and a water thermometer. The well-known Ford steering column gear lever is matched on the right by a very well-placed stalk actuating the direction-flashers and the umbrella. handle handbrake is convenient to the left hand.
The navigator is provided with a grab-handle and between the front seats are two Eolopress fire-extinguishers and a Thermos-flask holder. Two-speed wipers are fitted. Lamps are of vital importance to rally competitors. This Ford Zephyr has Marchal E2 headlamps, twin Marchal “Fantastic” 662 spotlarnps and a swivelling Lucas searchlight on the roof, controllable from inside the car. Sensibly, there is a strip of luminous tape along the back bumper.
The rally numbers had been removed front 580 FTW when I borrowed it and, apart from the roof lamp, glimpses of the extra equipment within, and the presence of Monte Carlo Rally, Coupe des Alpes, B.M.C.R.C.C. and Tulipen Rallye Internationale transfers on the back window, it appeared to be a normal Zephyr, carrying the ” automatic ” inscription on its boot lid. The surprise to other road-users when the Ford went motoring was all the more dramatic!
And can this Rally Zephyr motor! I had no opportunity to time it but the acceleration really is quite unique. In bottom gear you spin the wheels, in middle gear the car simply surges away, and top gear suffices for normal driving, the Zephyr accelerating vividly from more 30 m.p.h. right up to 100 m.p.h. in this ratio. This remarkable acceleration makes the Zephyr sheer joy to drive even on crowded roads. On any brief piece of straight 90 m.p.h. becomes commonplace and very little more space is needed in which to reach the century.
Equally incredible are the brakes. Driving fast in traffic down to Dorset I met up with a Jaguar driver who was obviously ” trying.” We disposed of him uphill in middle gear and thereafter he faded far behind. Yet at the conclusion of this exhilarating run I realised that I had never done more than just caress the brake pedal, although this drive had involved a great deal of lightning top and middle-gear acceleration punctuated with quick tucking-in behind slow vehicles. This lightest of brake applications served to retard the Ford as if it had been grasped by the hand of some invisible giant entrusted with our safety. No lag in the vacuum-servo actuation is apparent, either as the brakes go on or as the driver backs off to avoid locking the wheels on a loose surface. No noise, no ” hot-smell ” arises—the car is just retarded efficiently and extremely rapidly. So powerful are these excellent brakes that I postponed applying them fully until I was alone in the car with lap-strap fastened. Then the Ford stopped better than any car in previous experience, retardation governed only by the locking of the front wheels. There was a faint tendency to pull to one side, which must be qualified by remarking that the brakes had received no servicing, apart from replacement of the pads, since the” Alpine.” The braking action can be as fierce or as progressive as the driver wishes—these arc the finest brakes I have yet experienced. May they soon become an optional extra or standard equipment on the Zephyr.
To this astonishing speed, extraordinary acceleration and superlative braking is allied good road-holding and controllability. The suspension has softened up somewhat due to the arduous work involved in rally motoring and over bad surfaces there is a good deal of up-and-down motion and at times the back-end tends to get skittish. However, roll is subdued and the Zephyr swings easily round corners, oversteer quickly cancelled out with the high-geared steering, while rear-end breakaway is repressed by the Michelin ” X “s, which seldom make their presence heard.
Perhaps as outstanding as its tremendous urge is the docility of this competition Ford. It isn’t noisy unless deliberately” revved.” It will poodle along in top cog in speed limits without the slightest sign that the engine resents such treatment. Yet prod the accelerator and away the car surges, in clean effortless pick up to 160 k.p.h. and beyond. The steering, although high geared, is light and free from kick-back. The gear lever, seldom used, drops easily into first gear and is very reasonable of its kind. To cope with ” Alpine ” conditions the engine deliberately runs cool, temperature hovering around 140 deg. F. There are tow-rings front and back but it is difficult to imagine the Ford getting into a predicament where these would be needed!
Finally, one additional merit of this exceptionally desirable car— which, alas, cannot be bought in the ordinary course of business. In spite of its very great performance it gave a petrol consumption of better than 20 m.p.g. on a very fast run of over 200 miles. I fed it Esso Extra, Mr. Welch having assured me that 100-octane petrol isn’t necessary.
The Ford is quite unmarked after much rally motoring and the body betrays such harsh treatment in one respect only, the passenger’s front door being somewhat reluctant to close.
Driving 580 FTW was an exhilarating experience which proves that this is an exceedingly pleasant car for normal purposes and emphasises how valuable is competition motoring for improving the breed of ” bread-and-butter” vehicles.—W. B.